Guns Rarely Used to Kill Criminals or Stop Crimes, New VPC Report Shows

For Release: Wednesday, March 22, 2023

In 2019, for every justifiable homicide by a private citizen in the U.S. involving a gun, guns were used in 30 criminal homicides

Washington, DC — Every time a gun is used by a private citizen to justifiably kill a criminal, guns claim 30 lives in criminal homicides alone, according to Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, a just-released study from the Violence Policy Center (VPC). This most recent edition of the VPC study comes as the gun industry has expanded its marketing efforts promoting guns for self-defense, including targeting communities of color.

The study analyzes 2019 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). It also includes survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

The study finds that in 2019 there were only 316 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. That year, there were 9,610 criminal firearm homicides reported to the SHR. Using these numbers, in 2019, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 30 criminal homicides. For the five-year period 2015 to 2019, 49,104 Americans died in criminal gun homicides, while guns were used in only 1,453 justifiable homicides: a ratio of 34 to one. Neither ratio takes into account the tens of thousands of lives lost each year in firearm suicides and unintentional gun deaths. The study presents Bureau of Justice Statistics data that reveal that only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime (1.7 percent) or property crime (0.3 percent) employ guns for self-defense – and of these incidents, it’s not known whether the gun was even used successfully in stopping the crime.

Facing stagnation among its primary market of white males, the gun industry has expanded its efforts targeting Black, Latino, and Asian Americans (examples of manufacturer ads promoting self-defense, including those targeting Black and Latino Americans, are included in the study). Yet, as is true for all Americans, guns are rarely used by these groups in justifiable homicides.

In 2019, 154 (48.7 percent) of the shooters who committed justifiable homicides were white, 150 (47.5 percent) were Black, two (0.6 percent) were Asian, and 10 were of unknown race (3.2 percent). Hispanic numbers are not available due to reporting limitations.

“The big lie promulgated by the gun industry and its financial partners in the NRA is that guns are used millions of times a year to kill criminals and stop crimes. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Guns don’t save lives; they end them. Guns are rarely used in self-defense. Any gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional death than to kill a criminal,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann.

Additional findings include:

  • Seventeen states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2019: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
  • A significant percentage of the persons killed in firearm justifiable homicides were actually known to the shooter. In 2019, 40.5 percent of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 38.9 percent were strangers, and for 20.6 percent the relationship was unknown.
  • The shooters in justifiable homicides are overwhelmingly male. In 2019, of the 316 firearm justifiable homicides, 87 percent were committed by men.

The 316 firearm justifiable homicides by private citizens in 2019 do not include shootings by law enforcement.

The full study is available at

For more information on gun industry marketing to communities of color, see


The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.

Media Contact:
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